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TBI investigates Ripley house fire after racial slur found spray-painted on pool wall

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 5:16 PM CST
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RIPLEY, Tenn. (WMC) - A family in Ripley, Tennessee is searching for answers after their home on Hunters Trace burned to the ground earlier this month.

They believe this fire was no accident, and now the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is investigating what happened the night of November 1.

“It was 12:33 a.m., and ADT called and said, ‘you have a smoke detector going off. What do you want us to do?’ I said I’m in Missouri. Please call the fire department,” said homeowner Alan Mays.

Mays, along with his wife Kirsten and their three foster kids, were on vacation in Branson, Missouri.

An hour and a half after that first call from ADT, 2 a.m. at this point, Ripley Fire Chief Tracey Worlds messaged Mays to call him.

“He said your house was a total loss,” Mays said. “He said nothing could be saved.”

The home is reduced to rubble.

Only the chimney still stands, and the Mays family hasn’t quite shaken their emotions from that night.

The report from the Ripley Fire Department said once the fire was knocked down, Worlds did a 360 sweep of the scene.

The report reads, “The house looked to have exploded, leaving glass and the door frame approximately 30ft from the house, glass 50ft.” But that wasn’t the end of the story.

“[Worlds] said ‘I’ve got one more question to ask you,’” Mays recalled. “Did you write anything on your back pool wall? Was anything written on there when you left?’ I said the only thing on my back pool wall was my sundial that I have back there that’s been there for five years. He said, ‘Well I’ve got to tell you. There’s n----- lover written on your pool wall.”

The racial slur was spray-painted in big letters for all to see.

Mays, a two-tour Army vet, is in an interracial marriage and is in shock that something potentially racially motivated could be the cause of him losing everything.

“It’s been a living hell, and to accumulate to this, I don’t know what to say, man,” he said.

TBI states it believes the house fire is suspicious and is leading an investigation at the request of District Attorney General Mark Davidson.

Action News 5 asked TBI if the fire is being investigated as a possible arson and/or hate crime, but TBI spokesperson Keli McAlister told us, “Any questions regarding a hate crime might be best answered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as no state statute addresses such a crime.”

When we reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Memphis on how hate crimes are prosecuted in Tennessee, a spokesperson said, “we have no comment.”

Until answers come, the Mays are living in a rental property for now as they search for a new home.

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